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Olympus Has Fallen Review: Yippee Ki-Yay Mr. President

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Film Reviews | March 22, 2013 | Comments ()


olympushasfallen.jpg

This may come as a shock to you, but a movie starring Gerard Butler and featuring terrorists seizing the White House is not a fantastic movie that will collect a pile of Academy Awards. You will probably not tell your grandchildren where you were when this movie came out. I just wanted to get that shocking revelation out of the way right up front.

That said, Olympus Has Fallen is not actually that bad of a movie. It's a perfect example of the problems with any star, number, or thumb based rating system for films. It sets out to be a solid hard-R action film, and it succeeds at that. It is entertaining in exactly the niche that it fits itself into. Now this usually leads down a rabbit hole of accusations that just because a film sets out to be crap doesn't give it a free pass for being crap, et cetera. That rabbit hole contains more strawmen and false equivalence than a southern state senator pontificating on sex issues.

Sometimes you just feel like eating a big juicy hamburger, and criticizing said burger for not being a steak is sort of missing the point. And yes, in this metaphor that makes Michael Bay films shit tacos, gratuitous nudity the milkshake, and bad child actors the soggy side of vegetables that no one wants and just pretend aren't part of the actual meal.

Olympus Has Fallen is Die Hard in the White House. No I don't mean that it's like that. It actually is that. As in, there are frequent points at which it seems like the writer couldn't think of what to have happen next after realizing that he hadn't hit enough pages yet to actually go straight to the climactic fight, and so just inserted a scene right from Die Hard's script. Butler never actually says "yippee ki-yay" but he probably accidentally said it on a take or two in some of the scenes.

The central plot and McGuffin are so atrociously disconnected from any concept of reality that it might induce brain aneurysm if you think about it too much. The plot holes have their own zip codes, the illogic of the characters so profound that one feels sorry for mocking them too hard since it's probably an achievement for them to just manage to tie their shoes in the morning. Every time the movie flashes to the hostage situation and lets the bad guys talk, one has to take deep breaths to avoid losing consciousness from the field of stupidity blazing from the screen.

But the cast! Someone must have called in every favor they ever had, because they had top notch actors scattered throughout this thing. Ashley Judd for First Lady! Melissa Leo for Secretary of Defense! Angela Bassett, head of the Secret Service! Aaron Eckhart for President! Dylan McDermott as former Secret Service agent! Radha Mitchell as Butler's obligatory worried wife. And of course there's Morgan Freeman, because who the hell else would you turn to as Speaker of the House and acting President in a film like this?

The first hour or so of the film is superb though. It is a taut progression of slowly growing tension that eventually erupts into a magnificent and unflinchingly brutal action sequence that sets up the rest of the film. It earns a hard-R rating in spades. And there are two elements that make it work. First, there is an actual sense of tactics, the battle unfolding with more the logic of a murderous heist than a straight fight. Second, the film makes good use of the setting, laying waste to the center of Washington DC, an area familiar to anyone who has watched enough movies and television to feel like they could almost find their way around without a map. It tugs at those little strings that resonate with memories of 9/11, with terrified people running in the streets, satellite photos of the smoke rising from the wreckage of the National Mall. Of course it's manipulative, but if you're going to make a movie about terrorists seizing the White House and can't manage to dredge up memories of 9/11 then you probably should just turn in your director's card for sheer incompetence.

Olympus Has Fallen is like playing a really immersive video game that has a terrible overarching plot, such that you toss down the controller and go to the bathroom during the interminable and unskippable cut scenes. The cut scenes don't exactly ruin the game, but you really wish that they weren't there at all. Olympus Has Fallen would be a fantastic one hour action film. As it is, it has an extra forty minutes of scenery chewing cut scenes. But it did manage to shove a bunch of very talented actors into those cut scenes to make them slightly more palatable, and of course the low tones of Morgan Freeman never hurt anything.


Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.




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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Possible Spoilers.

    The action was superb in that ludicrous 90s action kind of way. There's a part where Gerard Butler, a paper-pushing, former Secret Service, former Special Ops, manages to cross the White House's front lawn and slaughters Koreans with a pistol. It was a P229, but still. These guys were wielding rocket launchers, but oh shit, can't touch Gerard Butler with his pistol.

    The plot was threadbare. You could almost see the dart holes that were in the major plot points to bring this script together. Topical Terrorism. Morgan Freeman. Violence. Patriotism (One Step Below Michael Bay). I'm still trying to figure out why Radha Mitchell was even in the movie in the first place. The setup with the President's wife was simply too quick to establish real sympathy for the President.

    I still had a good time watching the movie, though. Maybe it's because it was $5 Tuesday at the theater.

  • Pollyoliver

    As an actual yellow person and a person with eyes, everything about this movie was the worst. I think I had a rage stroke because I suddenly punched my gigantic theater soda out of its holding hole and hit the seat in front of me. Luckily, nobody was in that seat. Wait, did I say luckily? Now I regret that I wasn't kicked out of the theater to save myself from having to watch the rest of this movie.

    SPOILERS

    First, there is no way in hell that a plane carrying massive amounts of ammo and firepower would have made it past the Chesapeake Bay before being contacted by the airforce. That shit would have been shot down over the Pacific Ocean. Secondly, why couldn't they find Koreans who could actually speak Korean? What, they couldn't hire an actual Korean speaking person but the had the budget for Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd and Angela Bassett? You can't throw a kimchi taco in central LA without hitting a Korean speaking actor. Third, the photoshopped photos of the first family is even worse than the photo in Flight. There is one photo that look like Aaron eckhart is holding a disembodied child's head like a bowling ball. Finally, dialogue like 'no president, you're the traitor to our country. Globalization! Wall street!' like this is supposed to mean something is lazy lazy writing.

  • I wish I could be more constructive, but oh my God, your comment made me laugh so hard. Well done.

  • e jerry powell

    Alas, I don't think that Sandra Oh or Margaret Cho speak Korean (or at least I can't remember actually witnessing either of them speaking it), but I'm sure someone with a SAG card somewhere could manage it.

  • katyv

    Thank you! Yes! I live in DC and you can't walk 10 feet without passing an armed guard. Forget that preposterous mystery plane that wouldn't make it into US airspace in one piece--no ground force could take any building in this city because if any place in this country is prepared for instantaneous lock-down, it's Washington DC.

    And can I complain about how that miracle plane made it all the way to DC airspace somehow and THEN chose to fire at a) the Mall, which is completely empty and populated only with tourists, and b) everything BUT the federal buildings that completely blanket the rest of this city. Arg. Shoddy, shoddy writing.

  • ,

    I enjoyed this review. Well done.

    I'll skip the movie, thanks. If I need 100 minutes of entertainment that badly, I'll read the review 20 times.

  • csb

    So who are the bad guys in this piece, brown people or yellow people?

    And how jingoistic can we expect it to get?

  • leuce7

    Yellow. But very jingoistic; they manage to slip in a "the middle east is gleeful about our suffering" even though it has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with or advance the plot in any way.

    That said, eye rolls, plot holes, and silly one-liners galore amidst a very fine action movie. It is very entertaining for what it is.

  • mswas

    I haven't seen it but from the trailers, It seems sounds a lot like the first Mitch Rapp book by Vince Flynn. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T... Anyone read that and seen the movie? The book's a great "big, juicy hamburger" for sure! How alike are they?

  • Ben

    So how on the nose is the "RAR AMERICA YEAH YEAH YEAH!" of this movie, Esspecialy for non americans watching it?

  • Fredo

    My folks want to see this. I'm guessing it's more Dad pushing than Mom.

    That said, there's nothing wrong with aiming for the middle and hitting it. Some people don't want to make groundbreaking cinema. They just want to hit the notes, entertain and go home. Call it the "Nickelback"-ing of movies.

    This is what this movie is: The Nickelback of action movies.

  • I saw the trailer for this a couple of weeks ago, possibly on this very website. I have every intention of going to the theater this weekend(?) and un-ironically enjoying it like the sack of White Castle sliders it is.

  • e jerry powell

    White Castle makes me feel dirty, and I live in Texas.

  • They don't have Waffle House in MN, and White Castle is the next best thing after bar close.

  • e jerry powell

    We always went to Denny's when I was a college kid in the clubs, but in Austin there are so damn many 24-hour places here that no one has to worry about the nearest White Castle being 880 miles away. Plus which: gingerbread pancakes!

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Call of Duty: The Movie

  • TheAggroCraig

    I still don't know what this movie is about. (edited for spelling)

  • e jerry powell

    "Someone must have called in every favor they ever had..."

    I prefer to believe that someone has some very incriminating surveillance footage.

  • Miss Laaw-yuhr

    This looks craptastically awesome in a Lockout sort of way. Big bada boom!

  • idiosynchronic

    BIG . . Badda boom.

  • PaddyDog

    Whatever. We'll still see it because Ashley Judd is in it and Mr. PaddyDog has already put his name down to volunteer for her Senate campaign if she chooses to run.

  • e jerry powell

    Is Mr. PaddyDog as skilled in media manipulation as Olivia Pope? If so, I'll form a Super PAC right now.

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